Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck

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Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck in later life

Guido Georg Friedrich Erdmann Heinrich Adalbert Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck, from 1901 Fürst Henckel von Donnersmarck (b. Breslau, 10 August 1830 - d. Berlin, 19 December 1916) was a German nobleman, industrial magnate, and one of the richest men of his time. Unaware of Henckel's personal quirks, which included a pathological devotion to his deceased first wife, US Ambassador James W. Gerard found him affable and politically reasonable at a time when many German conservatives were extreme nationalists.


Born in Breslau, Silesia, he was the son of Karl Lazarus Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck (1772–1864) and his wife Julie, née von Bohlen (1800–1866). When his older brother Karl Lazarus Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck died in 1848, his father transferred his numerous mining properties and ironworks in Silesia to Guido.

Henckel also had a sister, Wanda (1826–1907), who married in 1843 Ludwig, Fürst von Schönaich-Carolath.[1] Friedrich von Holstein claimed that the father of one of her sons was either a waiter or a coachman; "One must choose between the two," Holstein wrote.[2]

Henckel lived in Paris in the 1860s with his mistress (later wife), Pauline Thérèse Lachmann, Marquise de Païva, known as La Païva, the most successful of 19th century French courtesans. He engaged in stock market speculations, and Otto von Bismarck sometimes found his shady contacts politically useful.[3] Henckel purchased for his mistress the Château de Pontchartrain in Seine-et-Oise.[4]

Like many other Prussian business and political figures, Henckel was a reserve officer, and during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 he was military governor in Metz and for competent for the to-be-annexed Département de la Lorraine (1871–1872). During the negotiations for the French war indemnity in 1871 he advised Bismarck that France could easily pay it[5] - and indeed, the indemnity payments were completed ahead of schedule in 1873.

After Henckel's return to Germany with his wife in 1877, Bismarck occasionally entrusted him with discreet political or financial transactions. In 1884, for instance, Henckel arranged a loan for Bismarck's old friend, Prince Orlov, at that time the Russian ambassador in Berlin.[6]

Henckel maintained a well-stocked game preserve on his estate at Neudeck in Silesia. When Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Neudeck for a shoot in January 1890, he was able to kill 550 pheasants in a single day.[7]

As an investor in the publishing company, in 1894 Henckel was unwillingly drawn into the dispute between the editor of Kladderadatsch and Geheimrat Friedrich von Holstein of the Foreign Office. In a series of anonymous articles the journal had held up to ridicule Holstein, Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter and Philipp zu Eulenburg. Kiderlen challenged the editor of Kladderadatsch to a duel and wounded him, but Holstein was not satisfied. He issued a similar challenge to Henckel, who maintained his innocence and declined to fight. Wilhelm II wisely refused to force Henckel to fight Holstein, for, years later, two junior officials of the Foreign Office asserted that they had been the authors of the Kladderadatsch articles.[8]

Wilhelm II granted Henckel the title of Fürst in 1901. The same year he declined appointment as Prussian Minister of Finance upon the death of Johannes Miquel.[9]

In the years preceding World War I Henckel was estimated to be the second-wealthiest German subject, his fortune exceeded only by that of Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach.

In 1916 he founded the Fürst Donnersmarck Foundation in Berlin with the donation of about 620 acres (2.5 km2) of land and four million Goldmarks, an institution instituted to make scientific use of the experiences gained in World War I and to apply these insights in a therapeutic way, and now supporting the rehabilitation, care, and support of the physically and multiply disabled as well as research supporting that care.


His first wife was Pauline Thérèse Lachmann (b. Moscow, 7 May 1819 – d. Neudeck, 21 January 1884), a courtesan better known as La Païva. They married in Paris on 28 October 1871. Besides the château of Pontchartrain, Henckel gave her the famous yellow Donnersmarck Diamonds - one pear-shaped and weighing 82.4 carats (16.48 g), the other cushion-shaped and 102.5 carats (20.50 g). [10] Horace de Viel-Castel wrote that she regularly wore some two million francs' worth of diamonds, pearls and other gems.

It was widely believed, but never proved, that La Païva and her husband were asked to leave France in 1877 on suspicion of espionage.[11] In any case, Henckel brought his wife to live in his castle at Neudeck in Upper Silesia. He had a second estate at Hochdorf in Lower Silesia.

His second wife was Katharina Slepzow (b. St. Petersburg, Russia, 16 February 1862 – d. Koslowagora, 10 February 1929). They were married at Wiesbaden on 11 May 1887. They had two children, Guido Otto (1888–1959) and Krafft Raul Paul Alfred Ludwig Guido (1890–1977)

The prince commissioned a superb tiara for Princess Katharina, composed of 11 exceptionally rare Colombian emerald pear-shaped drops, which weigh over 500 carats and which are believed to have been in the Empress Eugénie's personal collection.[12] The most valuable emerald and diamond tiara to have appeared at auction in the past 30 years, was auctioned by Sotheby's for CHF 11,282,500, CHF 2 million more than the highest estimate, on May 17, 2011 in Geneva.[13] The Donnersmarcks' jewellery collection was known to be on a par with, or even to have exceeded, those of many of the crowned heads of Europe.

Later life[edit]

Henckel remained interested in political affairs even in the last years of his long life. Beginning in the winter of 1913-14 he had numerous conversations with US Ambassador James W. Gerard, to whom he described his role in the French indemnity negotiations of 1871. He expressed his long-standing support for a protective tariff on agricultural products as well as government encouragement of German manufacturing interests. Henckel proposed that Gerard should take his second son, then nearly 24, to America to see the great iron and coal districts of Pennsylvania.[14]

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Henckel advocated levying a war indemnity even larger than that of 1871.[15] In 1915 he joined Fürst Hatzfeldt (head of the German Red Cross), Bernhard Dernburg, Hans Delbrück, Adolf von Harnack and others in signing a petition opposing the annexation of Belgium.[16]

Seeing through the military's glib propaganda and increasingly anxious about Germany's growing war debt,[17] Henckel von Donnersmarck died in Berlin in December 1916 at the age of 86.


Following World War I, Neudeck passed to Polish sovereignty as Świerklaniec; Hochdorf remained in German territory until 1945. Katharina Fürstin Henckel von Donnersmarck died at Koslowagora, today Kozłowa Góra, neighbourhood of Piekary Śląskie, in February 1929.

A decade later, during the preparations for the German invasion of Poland, Guido's son, Guido Otto Fürst Henckel von Donnersmarck met with Oberstleutnant Erwin Lahousen of Abwehr (military intelligence) at Hochdorf on 11 June 1939 to offer the assistance of the entire forestry staff of his Polish estate. The offer was accepted.[18] With the German defeat in 1945 and the coming of Communist rule, the family's estates were confiscated, and they went into exile in the West.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Prince Ludwig (1811-1862)
  2. ^ Cited in Werner Richter, Bismarck, p. 259n. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1964.
  3. ^ Richter, p. 258.
  4. ^ Pierre Levellois and Gaston d'Angelis (ed. dirs.), Les châteaux de l'Ile de France, pp. 170-172. Paris: Hachette, 1965. English translation of French edition of 1963.
  5. ^ James W. Gerard, My Four Years in Germany, p. 33. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1917.
  6. ^ Richter, p. 259.
  7. ^ Giles MacDonogh, The Kaiser. The Life of Wilhelm II, p. 158. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000. ISBN 0-312-30557-5
  8. ^ Virginia Cowles, The Kaiser, p. 121. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.
  9. ^ Christopher M. Clark, Kaiser Wilhelm II, p. 98. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2000. ISBN 0-582-24559-1
  10. ^ "Noble jewels". Sothebys. 
  11. ^ Levellois and d'Angeli, p. 172.
  12. ^ "Going, Going, Gone...Sold Tiaras". Order of Splendor blog. 
  13. ^ Sotheby's catalog No. 443
  14. ^ Gerard, p. 33.
  15. ^ Gerard, pp. 33-34.
  16. ^ Gerard, p. 246.
  17. ^ Gerard, p. 34.
  18. ^ Heinz Höhne, Canaris. Hitler's Master Spy, p. 337. New York: Cooper Square Press, 1999. Originally published in 1979. ISBN 0-8154-1007-7


  • Regarding personal names: Graf was a title, before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Count. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a separate estate, titles preceded the full name when given (Prinz Otto von Bismarck). After 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), could be used, but were regarded as part of the surname, and thus came after a first name (Otto Prinz von Bismarck). The feminine form is Gräfin.
  • Regarding personal names: Fürst was a title, before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Prince. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a separate estate, titles preceded the full name when given (Prinz Otto von Bismarck). After 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), could be used, but were regarded as part of the surname, and thus came after a first name (Otto Prinz von Bismarck). The feminine form is Fürstin.

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